Friday, September 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 28, 2398

Most everybody is somewhere other than the third floor lofts. Leona and Ramses are in the lab. Alt!Leona and Andile are helping Angela with her new business on the first floor. Heath is giving the McIvers a guided tour of Kansas City. Kivi is off doing something on her own, and Leona Reaver is holed up in her apartment. Marie is alone in her and Heath’s unit, so Mateo takes this opportunity to knock on the door. “When did you last speak with your handler?”
Marie frowns, uncomfortable at having to have this conversation, but not angry at him for starting it. “I’ve been informed of the development. You’ve not told Leona?”
“Not yet.”
“Why not?”
“I wanted to hear what you had to say about it.”
“You want me to justify my actions?” she figures.
“Some of them.”
Marie sighs. “I had nothing when I first came here. Heath makes it sound like this romantic story where he believed in me the whole time, and we fell in love at first sight. It wasn’t that easy, and it took much longer than that. I was homeless for a bit, sleeping in an empty lot before I ever felt safe telling him anything. I needed money, and I needed an identity. Winona had already set up her forgery operation by then, so that’s who I ended up with. Can you imagine how different my life would have been if I had just found a different forger? I can. I think about it all the time. She asked me a lot more questions than she did you, Mateo, and I didn’t have any good answers. She gave me what I asked for, free of charge, and I should have known right then that it wasn’t just pity, but I was on the hook. She started asking me to do things to pay her back. Little things at first, then more dangerous, and she came to realize that I was far more educated and skilled than any normal person could achieve within a single lifetime.
“I honestly don’t remember how we broached the subject, but I remember I gave her as little information about where I come from as possible. I didn’t just spill the beans about everything all at once. She’s been squeezing more and more out of me ever since. One day, she noticed a few extra people stepping into my condo, and she questioned me about you. It was her idea to have her forge your papers too. She had shut down by then, as it was an only temporary assignment years ago. She finished re-setting up her den just hours before we arrived for help, and you were her only recent clients. That’s what put her on the radar of legitimate law enforcement, because they noticed unusual activity in the system. She’s the daughter of a U.S. senator, but she’s not invisible. She decided she needed help, so she concocted this plan to get into bed with you by upgrading your credentials to SD6. To protect you, I...manipulated the situation to put a greater target on Leona, since she has actual training in the field.”
“This all checks out so far, but it doesn’t explain everything that’s happened to us.” He’s not judging her for what she did to get by. They’ve all done things. He’s only questioning her choice to keep it from them. The government has been weird with them from the start, which doesn’t make sense, given her position. Why wasn’t she honest? “They keep following us around the globe. Why is that?”
She’s seething just a bit. “They don’t trust me to report back on you, which they’re right not to. I’m trying to keep you out of it as much as possible. They’re following us because they hope you will eventually be more forthcoming about our origins and abilities.”
“What do they know about us already?”
“They know that we’re time travelers, and that we don’t have control over it. I’ve told them that you’re cognizant of certain special locations around the world that can give us temporary control. We are now looking for this special water in the hopes that it can somehow get us back home.”
“These claims are rather accurate,” Mateo points out.
“Yes, it’s very easy to omit information, but it’s not easy to lie to them outright. If I make a claim, it better be true, to some degree.”
Mateo nods. Now for the real question. “Why lie to us?”
Marie is reluctant to answer, or maybe she’s unsteady in her self-awareness. “This life; this...secret agent shit, it teaches you not to trust people. You get really comfortable hiding things from others, even when you love them. Heath knows absolutely nothing. I sold my intellectual property, that’s true, which mostly explains why we’re so rich, but it doesn’t account for all the money. I get paid for this work. I get paid very well. I just have to go in the field every once in a while.”
“Field work, doing what?”
“Various things, usually unrelated. At least that’s what I thought, but now we’ve found out that Senator Morton was involved, I’m starting to think there’s some kind of secret civil war in the government, and it’s all connected.”
“If there’s a secret war,” Mateo begins, “our team is at the center of it.”
“Yes. Unless...”
“Unless our arrival here is but a fraction of the story, and plenty of other travelers have made their way into this reality.”
“Yes, we may be only part of a statistic. I’ve been trying to find that out, but Winona doesn’t give without getting.”
“Then let’s give,” he suggests.
“What do you mean?”
“She wants answers, and you haven’t been able to give her very many, because you’ve had to protect us. But the thing is that we’re here, and we can protect each other, so let’s give her whatever we need to in order to get what we want. She may know where my cousin is, and not even realize it. She may know the location of a reality transition point, but not understand its nature.”
“You want to tell the rest what I did?” Marie asks, up to her eyeballs in anxiety.
“Well, only the core group. Andile, the alternates, and the McIvers don’t need to know anything about all that.”
“That’s how it starts,” Marie says, “the lying. You start justifying what you’re saying, and what you’re not. Then it just gets worse from there.”
“You’ve had to carry this burden on your own for four years, and I would love to share the load, but I am not smart enough to help. We need the others. Leona, Ramses, and Angela can tell us what to do. Truthfully, Kivi is literally unreliable, and Heath...”
“Heath is still an outsider to you.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t help it.”
“That’s okay, I get that. Either way, can we wait a little while longer?”
“Okay,” Mateo replies diplomatically. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 27, 2398

Mateo didn’t think to put Las Vegas, New Mexico or Las Vegas, Nevada on his list of places to investigate. It didn’t occur to him to include every single place that he’s ever been. For many people, that’s a costly and time-consuming endeavor, but for him, he’s been to surprisingly few places around the world. He’s probably been to more worlds than particular locations on any given world, and they’re all inaccessible for him anyway. His list would be a lot longer with faster-than-light intergalactic, or even just interstellar, travel. Anyway, there is probably more to learn about New Mexico, but Leona declared that they were going to leave for Kansas City, so that’s what they did. The bus took the two of them, plus Winona, across two more state borders, and dropped them off at the condo. From there, the latter separated from the group, and made her way back to whatever secret government lair she lives in.
The condo was a mess. It was designed for a family of four, but there were now fifteen people, it’s absolutely ridiculous. They made it work like a slumber party, but if anyone wants any privacy going forward, something is going to have to change. Ramses woke up really early the next morning, and tiptoed over the sleeping bags, very careful so as to not wake anyone. He only had one final thing to do at the lab before it was ready for primetime, but it was going to take the next several hours, and he didn’t want to go one more night without the third floor.
Leona and Angela join him there at a more reasonable hour to work on some things on the other two floors, and then everyone meets there before dinner. It’s going to be a mini-twin convention. At least that’s what they’ll tell anyone who notices the duplicates in the private room of the restaurant. They’re asked to wait at the bottom floor while Ramses runs up alone to prepare for the big reveal. He actually locks the elevator down so that no one can get a sneak peek. Rolling his eyes, Mateo takes the stairs, but everyone else continues to wait in the lobby.
Ramses is trying to carry two nightstands down the hallway. “Oh, it’s just you. Could you help me?”
“It doesn’t have to be perfectly finished,” Mateo points out to him as he takes one of them. “It just needs to be livable for now; electricity, plumbing...”
“And that’s all I’ve done. There’s still a lot to do to make any of this look like a home...or homes, that is.”
After Mateo finishes placing the nightstand by the bed, he starts to look around on his own, ignoring protests from Ramses who wants to give everybody the tour all at once. This is where they’re going to move to, the lot of them. They’ll be safe here. Well, at least as safe as possible. No place on Earth is safe from their enemies, but this is still the better choice. They have outgrown the Ponce de Leon, especially with the newcomers, who may or may not be staying. It’s in need of decor, but it will do nicely. Ramses done did good. “How many units? Nine?”
“Eight,” Ramses corrects. “That door at the end is not a unit. It’s a common area for all of us. The others are studio-size, according to this world’s current standards. The two on either side of the common area are each a little bigger, but they’re all fit for one or two people. Ah, but I’m saying too much. Come back during the official tour!”
Mateo laughs. “Open the elevator, Rambo.”
Ramses presses a button on his device, and sends the elevator down for the others. They spill out of it like sardines, thirteen people in a space for ten or eleven. “Welcome, welcome, all, to The Lofts at Matic Labs!”
“That’s not what the lab is called,” Leona says in a way that sounds like she’s had to tell him that many times.
Ramses insists on showing everybody each apartment, even though six of them are pretty much identical, and the other two are identical to each other. Each one has two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a tiny kitchenette. Most of the cooking is meant to be done in that common area, which resembles an office break room. Its kitchen is fully loaded, and is accompanied by couches, computers, other screens, and its own bathroom. He may have called these lofts, but in reality, they combine to form a single house that happens to be sitting on top of a small office building.
“Which one is ours?” little Trina asks.
“Oh, we can’t stay here,” Alyssa says to her sadly.
“Why not?” Ramses asks her.
“Well, this is yours. We’re not really part of all this.”
“Nonsense,” Ramses says. “You have a destiny with us, you may just not know it yet. I built this for our friends, and you qualify.” He addresses the whole room, “you all qualify, duplicates included.”
Alyssa is unsure. She looks to Leona and Mateo, whose facial expressions echo the sentiment. This should be their home now, and not because they can’t take care of themselves, but because they’re family. The only question would be the other Mateo, the other Leonas, and Andile. It’s unclear what they want out of life, and whether their objectives align with everyone else’s. Well, that’s not the only question. If they too want to return to the main sequence—and not just to die—they might want to stay close. Whenever the team figures out how to accomplish their task, it could be time sensitive, and space might even be limited. They don’t know yet. They just don’t know.
“Okay, we’ll stay, and we’ll take whatever unit no one else wants,” Alyssa decides.
“The two on either side of us have more square meterage, but an odd configuration, because this room butts into them,” Ramses begins. “For a family of four, I would recommend units B, C, F, or G. A and H are smaller because of the elevator, so I’ll take one of those.”
“We’ll take the other,” Mateo volunteers for himself and Leona.
Ramses points at people’s heads, and counts in his own. “If the McIvers are together, and couples are together, four of us will have to pair up to make it work.”
“My Leona and I can be in one unit,” Andile says.
“Are you sure?” Alt!Leona asks. “Are you sure you want to stay?”
“Yeah, why not? I’m tired of running. Let’s stay with people who care about us.”
“That still leaves two roommates. Alt!Mateo, I’m okay bunking with you.”
“No, we can do that, can’t we?” Kivi asks, indicating herself and Angela.
“No,” Alt!Mateo says. “I don’t know what made you think I would be interested in joining your little cult, but I’m not going to do that.”
“What will you do instead?” Alt!Leona asks. It’s very awkward between them since he was, and will be responsible, for her death in Reality One.
“I don’t have to go home, but I can’” He starts to leave.
“You will always have a home here, just the same!” Ramses calls to him.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 26, 2398

The process of freeing the unconscious prisoners is not easy. It wasn’t legal for them to be kept there like that in the first place, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal to just let them out, and drive away. Certain people should be notified about all of this so a proper investigation can take place. The Matics didn’t have time for this, and they didn’t want all that heat on them anyway, so their only choice was to sneak them out themselves. Most people working at the facility didn’t know about the secret prisoners, but enough of them did to avoid having to actually break out, like Mateo and Leona have had to do so many times in the past. Still, they had to wait for the cover of night, and the few guards who could help them had to dress differently. The prisoners would have been spooked to see a guard’s uniform. It had to look like a legit covert mission by a third party, which it essentially was. They loaded them into a school bus, and drove off without a hitch. Winona had to go back to finish one last thing first, which Leona assumed was code for killing the doctor who kept them locked up there, but she can’t prove that.
It’s morning now, on a Sunday. They can’t take the strangers to the secret McIver cabin, because there must be a reason they were in the prison in the first place. The question is what was that reason, or those reasons? It wouldn’t be any of their business what they allegedly did to get themselves into a special isolated section of the prison under normal circumstances, but since the team broke them out, it doesn’t seem crazy to ask. But are they entitled to an answer? Maybe, but food and shelter first, and Winona claims to have a little place to take them just outside of Las Vegas. Leona tried to call it a safehouse, but Winona was hesitant to agree with that guess. Both she and Mateo slept most of the way, the Energy water they injected themselves with having worn off, and caused them to crash
“Where are we?” a groggy Mateo asks Winona, who is sitting behind him.
“A few miles past Santa Fe,” Winona answers.
“Santa Fe...New Mexico?” he questions.
“Isn’t that the wrong direction? I thought we were going to Las Vegas.”
“Yes,” Winona confirmed. “There’s also a Las Vegas in N-M.”
Mateo relaxes his neck. “Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been there.”
“You have?” Leona asks. It’s funny that she should forget such a thing. How many other memories managed to escape her steel trap?
“Yeah, my parents and I were stranded there once, back in, uh...” That was 378 years ago, in an old timeline.
“Right, I remember now. I was in school at the time.”
“Do you have something against the town?” Winona asks, worried about pissing them off.
“As long as it helps these people, it’s fine,” Leona brushes off.
“Anyway, we’re not technically going to be in Vegas. We’ll pass it in a half hour or so, and end up closer to a one-horse town called Arriba.”
Leona nods, unperturbed. She doesn’t know about Marie yet. Mateo doesn’t know how to tell her, or any of them, for that matter. He should talk to her first, to get her side of the story. She’s obviously not evil, but the Honeycutts have caused them all a lot of problems since they came here, and that’s not something they should have to just forgive and forget without an explanation.
The bus exits onto Highway 104, and heads away from civilization. Before too long, it turns again, and takes them to a place in the middle of nowhere called Jimenez Cemetery. “Ominous,” one of the prisoners muses. “You are saving us, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely,” Winona replies believably.
The driver stops, and opens the door. Everyone begins to climb out, looking for any sign that this is the right place to be. It might be a poetic location, fit to kill a bunch of ne’er-do-wells that society doesn’t want to deal with anymore. She’s probably going to force them to dig their own graves.
There’s a little shack on the other side of the graves. A man comes out of it in response to their arrival, polishing something in his hands. As he approaches, Mateo starts to think that he must recognize him. Even Leona seems to be having trouble matching a name to the face. “Mr. Halifax,” Winona greets him respectfully.
How could they not spot him immediately? It’s The Gravedigger. Though, to be fair, it’s been a pretty long time since they’ve seen him, and he looks a few years older. If anyone can get them back home, it’s this guy. He lives in another universe, and is on a first name basis with the powers that be. Or maybe they should be referred to as the powers that were. Nah, they’re still in control of other people’s lives.
“Is this all of them?” Halifax asks.
“Yes,” Winona says. “Can you take them all at once?”
Halifax narrows his eyes at the crowd, particularly at Mateo and Leona. “That depends. Do any of them not want to come with me?”
Leona crosses her arms. “That depends. Where are you taking them?”
“That depends...on where they belong,” Halifax says cryptically.
“Where might they belong?” Mateo asks him.
“Various places,” Halifax begins. “Kind of like how I belong elsewhere.”
“They’re bulk travelers,” Leona realizes.
“What does that mean?” Winona asks.
“It’s above your paygrade,” Halfiax says to her.
Winona looks over at Mateo. “This is why I need to debrief you, despite what you think I’ve already been told.”
“You’ve been told enough for us to want to debrief you.
“How did they end up here?” Leona asks Halifax, ignoring the short exchange between her husband and Winona.
“Westfall,” Halifax answers, surprisingly forthcoming.
“So, they don’t even know,” Leona notes.
“Unclear,” Halifax says. Westfall is a section of The Crossover which instigates travel between universes while preventing travelers from even realizing that anything happened. Instead, they believe that everything they see is just a part of their own world.
“We’ll go with you,” Leona begins “as long as our friends can come with us, and as long as we get certain biochemical characteristics back.”
“I can’t give you either,” Halifax says apologetically. “I wish I could.”
“Come on, Honeycutt,” Leona says as she turns away. “It was nice to see you!” she yells back to Halifax.
“Likewise,” he returns.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 25, 2398

Mateo didn’t really have a plan, he was more just winging it, processing his actions through instinct, and powering them by his emotions. When he saw Leona Reaver lying there, helpless on the table, he felt guilty. It was an alternate version of himself who was responsible for her inevitable death—the one, in fact, in a medical coma on the other side of the room—which as Nerakali would remind him, was someone completely different, but he still felt the blame. This was his chance to protect her in the way his counterpart couldn’t. She’s young, and untraveled, and by all accounts, innocent. His wife, Leona, meanwhile, has lots of experience getting out of scary situations. He knew that she could handle it, and would jump at the chance.
Before any guard could return to the evil prisoner experimentation lab, the Matics teleported in, and took their respective places on the tables. Leona and Ramses don’t know whether immortality water injections wear off over time, even without use, so they needed to be as quick as possible. The Energy water they used should be pulling double-duty, insulating them from any mind-numbing drugs, and keeping them powered up. To pull off this latest prison break, they probably won’t be able to teleport everyone to safety, but the trick might still come in handy. The others are relying on them. Time travelers or no—part of their group, or no—these people need help. They are the only ones in a position to do it, and if they didn’t swap places with their alternate selves, then the prison would have heightened security after the first escapes. Now the prison isn’t even aware there were any escape at all.
It’s been two days, and nothing has happened. The non-plan won’t work if they don’t encounter at least one person who is part of all this. All this time, they have only ever seen the other test subjects. Leona is starting to think that maybe they’re not even subjects at all, but special prisoners who are simply not allowed to get up and move around. It’s plausible that the fact that Leona Reaver and Alt!Mateo are time travelers is a coincidence, and this section has nothing to do with that. No, that can’t be true. It’s too unlikely of a coincidence. Leona is about to tap a status report request from Mateo when the doors finally open. She shuts her eyes to avoid getting caught.
“I believe this is one of the two you are interested in?” asks a voice in a sort of Baltic-Canadian accent. He sounds fairly close to Leona’s table.
A familiar voice replies, “yes, that would be her. Where is the other one?”
“Over here,” he answers, stepping farther from Leona.
Winona follows, but speaks loud enough for Leona to hear. “And that’s the other one. How long did you say they’ve been here?”
“The man came to us almost one year ago, but the woman hasn’t been here but a month.”
“And you’re certain of this? There is no way they could have escaped?”
“Escaped? But how? And why would they return?”
“Far be it for me to answer that, just assure me that they could not have.”
“I keep a man posted at the door at all times, and personally check in on my patients at least once a day.”
“Except for yesterday, when you were in Washington to meet with us.”
“Except yesterday, of course. But I promise you, that door has not opened.”
Winona mutters something under her breath that Leona can’t hear. Then she continues with, “and the others? Who are they?”
“Oh, you do not want them. There is nothing special about them. No unexplainable photographs. They are down here for other reasons.”
“Give me the reasons.”
“Well, it’s different for each of them. You don’t have the time. You came here for these two, just take them...and there is a matter of my payment?”
“I have been unable to locate any security cameras in the basement.”
“I’m sorry, no cameras down here, as we like to keep this project private, but as I said, they never could have escaped, and even if they could, they would not have been able to return. It’s quite simply impossible.”
“What do you think, Agent Reaver? Would you have been able to escape this place unnoticed?”
Leona sits up on her table. “I’m sure I would have figured out a way.”
The evil doctor, or whatever it is he is, is mortified. “What is the meaning of this?”
“You have been holding two of my best SD6 agents against their will. We have spent untold amounts of taxpayer money in the search for them. Agent Reaver here caught a lead in the whereabouts of Agent Dufresne. She followed it right here, which is obviously when you abducted her as well.”
“I...I had no idea,” the doctor apologizes.
“I believe you, but that doesn’t mean my superiors will be lenient with you.”
“No, please. Take them, take them. No charge.”
“And the others.” Mateo sits up on his table as well.
Winona looks to Leona for guidance, then sighs. “Yes, the others.”
“Are they all agents?” the doctor questions.
“They’re persons of interest,” Leona explains, hopping down to the floor.
“Yes, of course.” He bows humbly. “I’ll begin revival procedures.”
He jogs over to one of the other patients, and starts fiddling with the equipment. Leona goes to watch him in case he tries to do something funny, like release a cyanide solution. Winona turns to Mateo. “This is the last favor I do for you without any answers. I don’t care if my father and I have built enough trust, or not. You’re going to tell me what I want to know regardless.”
Mateo tilts his head. “I don’t think I have to.”
“Mister Matic, I have helped you on a number of occasions, and now I’m breaking you out of prison, which will take money to stay quiet. You—!”
“I don’t know why you’re so hellbent on getting me and my friends to admit what we are, but I don’t care. There’s a song I like where we’re from. It has a lyric that goes, no one can tell you what you already know. You keep showing up at the right place at the right time. We’ve scanned for trackers and listening devices. There is no way you could know the things that you know without amazing intel. So why don’t we cut the shit, and you tell me who it is?”
“Who who is?” Winona asks, still playing dumb.
“The mole. Who has been feeding you information about us?”
Winona frowns, ‘cause she knows she’s been found out. “Agent Walton.”
“I knew it! I knew we couldn’t trust Heath.”
“No.” Winona shakes her head. “Agent Marie Walton.”

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 24, 2398

Mateo wasn’t gone for long. He teleported himself, his other self, and yet another Leona to the Provo farmhouse, which was not part of the plan. He was supposed to take them to Alyssa’s secret cabin. It’s only by luck that the rest of the group hadn’t left for the rendezvous yet. He asked Kivi and Andile to drive the rescues to the cabin the long way around, and for Alt!Leona to accompany him elsewhere. He apparently had business left in the prison. “Do you trust me?” he asked.
She didn’t know him that well, but, “yes.”
Once they were gone, the other two did as they were asked, and headed for the cabin. They carried the third Leona over to the bed, and laid Alt!Mateo on the couch. Then they waited, all day, and all night. There didn’t seem to be anything medically wrong with them, but they could see electrode marks on their temples, and IV sites in their arms. They clearly hadn’t just been in prison, but in the infirmary, or something. They didn’t know what had happened to them, but Mateo and Alt!Leona weren’t back, which could mean the same awful thing had happened to them during this new mission.
The rescues wake up at the exact same time, as if programmed to do so. They’re both surprised to see each other. Neither of them knew that the other was in the same prison as them. Their memories are a little fuzzy, so they drink some water, and rest, before they can launch into their respective stories. Mateo goes first. “You see, there’s not much a man can do when he finds himself in a strange land with no identity, no money, and no hope for help. Especially if the world is designed to screw over anyone not fortunate enough to have been, fortunate. I had to scratch and claw my way to everything I had, and even that wasn’t much. I managed to get enough money for a fake identity, so that’s what I used, hoping to find a real job. I didn’t want to be a criminal anymore. Problem is, I reached that point in my life just as World War III was starting up, and I feel like they started from the bottom of the list, because I got called up right away. They sent me straight to Russia to hold back forces advancing on Mongolia. That’s when I learned that I can’t die. I can get close. I can get real close, but something always pulls me away.”
When he pauses, Kivi speaks, “the extraction mirror.”
“That’s how you survived Horace Reaver killing you in the old timeline in the main sequence.”
“Except I don’t survive. Or I won’t. Or whatever. I’m destined to die there, and every time something threatens my life here, I end up right back there.”
“But eventually, you have to die,” Kivi reasons. “You can’t just keep on doing that forever.”
Alt!Mateo smirks. “It’s on the floor.”
“What’s on the floor?” Andile asks.
“The extraction mirror,” Alt!Mateo says. “It’s literally on the floor in the hospital, right under me. Each time I go back, I just fall down again, and return to that goddamn parking lot on the edge of Crown Center. It’s a loop. It doesn’t matter how many times I do, it will never end.”
“That still doesn’t make sense,” Kivi believes. “You would constantly run into your alternate selves. You couldn’t all fit in the mirror at once.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya,” Alt!Mateo begins, leaning back in the wobbly chair. “That’s what happens to me. A Russky tries to kill me, I go back to the hospital room to find Horace Reaver frozen in time, trying to bludgeon me with a bedpan, fall into the mirror, and land in the parking lot. I fall down a flight of stairs, hospital, Reaver, bedpan, parking lot. Reaver never moves, the mirror is always there.”
“Who put it there?” Andile asks him.
“No idea,” Alt!Mateo answers. “No one’s come to claim responsibility, not even the first time.”
“How long have you been in this reality?” Andile asks.
“Eh, time, right?”
“Are you saying that you don’t age?” Kivi questions.
“No, I do. I skip time, and land in the parking lot at random points in the future.”
“Mateo was right,” Kivi decides. “This guy is the key. He’s been using temporal energy this whole time. Whatever is suppressing it in all of us has no effect on him.”
“What about her?” Andile asks, gesturing towards who they have decided to refer to as Reaver!Leona.
“I was skipping time too,” Reaver!Leona explains. “But more periodically. I live one day a year, just like he’s supposed to. It suddenly stopped a few months ago.”
Kivi and Andile look at each other. Everything changed on that day.
“This is all fun and interesting,” Alyssa begins, “but it doesn’t explain where our Mateo is, or the other, other Leona.”
“Who are you?” Alt!Mateo asks.
“Our friend,” Kivi replies.
“Who are you?” Mateo repeats, this time to Kivi.
“Your other self’s friend.”
“I dunno, where would they be?” Reaver!Leona asks Alyssa, hoping to avoid any further argument.
“He said they were going back to the prison,” Alyssa answers.
“Oh, he shouldn’t have done that,” Alt!Mateo warns. “He’s not going to like it there. They know about us. They’ve been doing tests on us. I’ve been in there the longest, I guess you just got there?”
“I’ve been there for about a month,” Reaver!Leona negates.
“How do we get them back?” Alyssa questions.
“We don’t.” Another Leona walks into the cabin from outside. They don’t know which one it is, though.
“Report,” Kivi says to her.
“I’m Alt!Leona,” she says, taking Andile’s hand affectionately to clarify her meaning a little more. “Mateo tried to keep me safe by spiriting me away to Kansas City, but we’ve all come back.”
The rest of the team files in behind her. “The third floor is done,” Ramses announces proudly. “There’s enough room for all of us.”
“Who are all these people?” Alt!Mateo asks vaguely.
Alt!Leona goes on, “the married Matics are in the prison together, having taken the place of their counterparts. We have been instructed to let them get themselves out, which they will do while freeing all the other test subjects. Our job is to be ready for them when they do that.”

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 23, 2398

Mateo was excited to find the homestone at first. Its entire thing is being able to send people back to where they started before they first experienced time travel, whether that was in the present reality, or another. But that’s the thing that Alt!Leona pointed out, which is that every member of his team was from a different reality. Not even Mateo and Leona were from the same one. Even if Kivi’s idea of trying to duplicate the stone with Mateo’s quantum knife worked, it would still separate them all. Homestones were known to transport multiple people to the same point in spacetime, but asking for it to do it for nine or ten people all at once was more than pushing it. Plus, whether Alyssa knew it or not, she was destined to leave the Third Rail too, so the total number of people in need of such a thing was even larger.
Upon the properties of a homestone being explained to her, Andile thought there might still be a way if they could just get someone like Ramses back home, where he could use the vast resources of the main sequence to come back for the rest, but that seems like a stretch, and they have other thing to worry about at the moment. They have to focus on the mission at hand, which is to break Alt!Mateo out of Black Crook Rehabilitation Facility. Despite sharing a near identical name with its counterpart from 350 years ago, where Horace Reaver and Gilbert Boyce once lived, the two prisons are not very much alike. The first was a tower built on the peak, holding up a platform where residents lived in almost suburban-like homes. They worked together to maintain a microcosmic society, safe from and for the general population in its isolation. The one here is just a regular building with a fence around it. Rehabilitation isn’t even really part of the program. They just included that in the name to make people feel better about letting their social scraps waste away behind bars, kind of like how the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is neither democratic, nor a republic.
Mateo will not be able to get his alternate self out of there using wingsuits, as he did last time. The plan went well, but looking back now, it was reckless and foolish. Sure, they had the advantage of time that the guards were nowhere near prepared for, but so many things could have gone wrong. They pretty much just got lucky, or maybe the powers that be protected them in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to recognize at the time. They have a chance this time to do it differently, to make it far easier on themselves. Back in those days, time travelers were time travelers, and teleporters were teleporters, but they have learned so much about reality, the lines have been blurred. More specifically, Mateo is carrying with them one syringe of temporal energy-infused immortality water. It’s actually activated Energy water; double the energy. Ramses believes there is enough power in this thing to make two, maybe even three jumps, which is better than they have been able to do thus far.
“I wasn’t able to figure out where Mateo’s cell might be,” Andile says regretfully. She has become their resident researcher, which makes sense, because that’s what she did before all this happened to her. “That’s all confidential.”
“I don’t think I’ll need that,” Mateo hopes. “Whenever I get a taste of temporal energy, I also get back my superempathy. If there’s anyone in the world I’m more connected to than my Leona, it’s my self.”
“Are you sure?” Andile questions.
“No,” Mateo answers honestly, “but Kivi came up with a contingency plan.”
“It’s not a plan,” Kivi points out. “It’s just an idea.”
“And it’s a good idea,” Mateo tells her.
“It’s...not,” Kivi contends.
“It’s...going to be okay.” Mateo has learned in his advanced age that confidence is key to the success of any mission. Without it, he has to rely too heavily on other people, and he doesn’t want to do that anymore. He doesn’t want to be helpless and sad. He wants to get back in the driver’s seat of his own life. So after a quick goodbye to his friends, he injects himself with the Energy water.
Andile was right to be worried. He gets his empathy back, but he can’t feel anyone he hasn’t before. He can sense Leona, Ramses, Angela, and Marie back in Kansas City. He can feel Kivi in the room with him, which is a bit ambiguous except when accounting for the fact that he can’t feel Alt!Leona, because she’s not the one he’s in love with, and his mind is conscious of that. As Nerakali would explain it, there is only one you; even alternate selves are only approximations. So since he doesn’t know where Alt!Mateo is, he’s going to have to go with Plan B.
Mateo teleports into the prison, getting as close as possible to the room where they think the cells should be controlled. It’s dead center, and would be impossible to reach from the outside without being spotted, but he doesn’t have to worry about all the doors. He appears to be wrong about the purpose of this area, though, as this looks more like a rich person’s fancy office. The walls are lined with books, and there’s a putting strip on the floor. What a giant cliché, it must be the warden’s office.
“Mister Matic,” comes a voice from the other side of the chair. He spins around, once more like a cliché. It’s Tamerlane Pryce. Because of course it is. “I’ve been waiting.”
“Have we met?” Mateo asks. He doesn’t mean to act like he doesn’t know who he is, but it could be a different version of Pryce, rather than the one he grew to hate in the afterlife simulation.
Pryce understands the meaning. “We’ve not, but I’ve heard of you. I am aware of how my alternate self treated you, and for what it’s worth, I am sorry for that.”
“I have dealt with far worse people, Mateo says sincerely. The other Pryce was rude and self-centered, but not evil. When all added up, he probably did more good than bad. He did save the lives of tens of billions of people throughout history.
“I assume you’re here to bust Andy Dufresne out?” this Pryce asks.
“I assume you’re not going to stop me,” Mateo says, both because maybe saying it out loud will make it come true, but also because there’s a strong chance that it is true.
Pryce looks halfway disgusted. “Ugh, you don’t want that guy. He’s a douche. There’s someone else I have in mind who doesn’t deserve to be here, and could use your help instead. I assume you possess a limited number of jumps?”
“I can do what I need to, as long as you stay out of my way.”
Pryce takes out a big book of residents, listed in alphabetical order, and opens to a particular page. “This is where your other self is right now.” He’s deliberately keeping his finger over the location. Then he switches to another page. “This is where someone who deserves to escape is.” This time, he’s deliberately keeping his finger over the name, and only showing the location. “I won’t tell you who it is until you choose.”
Remembering his thing about the driver’s seat, Mateo takes a letter opener out of its cup, and jams it into Pryce’s wrist, who cries out in pain. He carelessly removes the book from the bloodied hand, and scans for the second name. It’s Leona Reaver.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 22, 2398

No waiting, no getting sidetracked. They decide to get to Utah quickly, and start formulating a plan to get Alt!Mateo out of prison. Does he deserve to get out, or will he turn out to be a psychopathic killer? Hard to say, none of them knows him all that well, but they can’t just leave him there either. Most of the team has stayed in Kansas City. Leona and Ramses have a lab to finish, and Angela has her own thing going down on the first floor. Heath managed to convince Marie to stay out of it, for the sake of their marriage, so it’s just Mateo, Kivi, Alt!Leona, and Andile. They don’t know what they’re going to do, but they don’t want to waste time. It’s a two day trip from Kansas City to Provo, Utah, with a stop in the middle in Aurora, Colorado. They can’t take The Olimpia, because it’s still in need of some repair, which Ramses is doing during his free time. He never takes any actual free time. The workload will catch up with him later. It’s mid-afternoon now, and they have made it to their resting place, the McIver house. It looks a lot like their farmhouse in Kansas. Family aesthetics.
“Welcome, welcome,” Alyssa says sincerely, ushering them in.
The eldest boy, Moray begins to help them with their bags, deaf to the protests.
“Thank you for letting us stay with you again,” Mateo says graciously.
“Do you really have business out here,” Alyssa asks, “or are you just making sure we haven’t told anyone about all that stuff in Lebanon.”
“We really do have business. We just needed a place to stay for the night,” Alt!Leona explains. We’ll be out of your hair in the morning.”
“You can stay as long as you need, there’s plenty of room,” Alyssa promises.
“Where are you aunt and uncle?”
“Strawberry Cemetery,” Alyssa answers.
“Oh my God,” Mateo gasps, “what happened?”
“They died,” Alyssa says with a shrug. “It was about sixteen years ago.”
“That timeline doesn’t make much sense,” Kivi argues. “We gave you some money to help you make your way here to live with them much less than sixteen years ago.”
Alyssa shrugs again. “We lied. We were worried that you would try to take us in, or call social services.”
“So whose house is this?”
“It was theirs,” Alyssa claims. “I don’t know how they handle things in the future, where you’re from—”
“Not the future,” Mateo interrupts.
Alyssa just keeps going, “but for us, when the owner of property dies, it passes on to their next of kin, and they’re free to do whatever it is they want with it. We chose to ignore it until a couple of months ago. We have a secret mountain cabin down near Bryce that our grandparents left us too.”
Alt!Leona perks up when she hears that. “How much?”
“How much what?” Alyssa asks.
“How much for the secret cabin?”
“If you wanna use that too,” Alyssa begins, “you can do so for free. We’re not allowed to sell it. I signed a secret will when I was a child.”
“Who asked you to sign this will? Your grandparents?” Alt!Leona asks.
“Yeah,” Alyssa replies.
“Did your parents sign one too?”
“No, they didn’t even know about the cabin.”
“Someone knew a long time ago that we would be coming.” Alt!Leona realizes.
“What makes you say that?” Mateo asks. “Did a seer tell you to look for a mountain cabin, or something?”
“No, it’s not the cabin itself, but where it’s located,” Alt!Leona explains. “Bryce Canyon is where Maqsud Al-amin created the cosmic sextant.”
“How would you know that if you pretty much came straight here after the surgery?” Kivi asks.
“It wasn’t immediately after. I spent a year trying to gather every bit of evidence I could find, in case there was a way to bring him back,” Alt!Leona says, referring to a different Alt!Mateo. “What I found was a book called Hotspots.”
A Look into Places of Great Power on Earth, and Beyond?” Alyssa asks.
“Where did you hear that title,” Alt!Leona asks her.
Alyssa goes to an old-timey cabinet thing that’s not built into the wall. She unlocks a drawer, and pulls out the book that they’re talking about.
“Where did you find that?” Mateo asks.
“Carlin found it in the cabin,” Alyssa responds. “It...literally doesn’t open.”
Alt!Leona reaches over, and opens it anyway. There must be a special lock on it that only allows time travelers to access it. “This can help us.”
“That’s not all we found,” little Trina exclaims. She takes a rock out of her pocket, and smiles as she shows it to them. It’s a homestone.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 21, 2398

There is something that Andile didn’t even tell Alt!Leona. When the latter first came to this reality, they were surprised to see each other again. Two women out of time, there under different circumstances, and having already known each other. Upon hearing Andile’s new story, Alt!Leona realized how focused on herself she had been this whole time. She hadn’t asked Andile much about what she had gone through. She only knew the basics of the event; not the details. And she hadn’t made much effort to change that. But that doesn’t mean Andile didn’t lie. She could have volunteered the information, back then, or at any point over the course of the last year.
“How do you feel about this?” Leona asks her husband when they wake up the next day.
He’s had time to sleep on it. “It won’t be the first time. It’s not even the first time meeting this version.”
“You don’t know that it’s the same one from Dardius,” Leona says, not believing it herself.
“Let’s be real. He told Andile that he just came from what he called a Death Race. It’s the same guy.” Back in 2251, Mateo and a handful of his friends were living on Tribulation Island. There were once more people, but their then-enemy, Arcadia Preston was tormenting them with expiation challenges. Every three years, she would remove another person from the timestream. Only Mateo and Lincoln could remember that they even existed in the first place; the former quite intentionally, and the latter because knowing everything is his whole thing. One of these challenges involved Mateo street racing a different version of himself. This other Mateo lived in what was once known as Reality One, and has been commonly blamed for Leona Reaver’s death. Mateo’s niece, Dar’cy sacrificed herself by sending both her and Alt!Mateo back to Reality One, just before his death at the hands of Horace Reaver. Dar’cy had a hard time returning home, but once she did, she never mentioned that anything special had happened to Alt!Mateo, so everybody just assumed he died like he was meant to. Apparently, he survived.
Leona and Mateo left the safehouse after the news to let Andile and Alt!Leona discuss the secret in private, but now it’s time to get back to the matter. They have to find this other Mateo, and figure out what makes him so damn special. Marie wants them to hold off, and maybe get back to their other issues, but that sounds like a mistake. They’ve had so many missions since they’ve come here. Most of them were impromptu, and most of the rest were sidetracked…sometimes by one of the impromptu missions. They really need to stick to the plan for this one, and follow through. It’s important. The other stuff is important too, but there is no point in going to Easter Island if the other Mateo gives them all the answers they were looking for.
As the two of them are getting dressed, there is a knock at the door. Angela is already up, so she answers it. To everyone’s surprise, it’s Andile and Alt!Leona. They explain that they’ve decided to abandon the safehouse, mostly because a covert branch of the government set them up with it, which sort of pretty much negates the whole safe aspect of it. The condo isn’t safe either, but at least it’s more comfortable. There’s not exactly room for everyone there, but Ramses woke up hours ago, as he has been for the last few days, to continue working on their space issue.
“You know where he is?”
“I do,” Andile answers, not elaborating.
“Go ahead and tell them,” Alt!Leona urges.
Andile still hesitates.
“Where?” Mateo asks, not understanding the hold up. “Topeka? Croatia?”
“A prison in Utah,” Alt!Leona adds.
“Lemme guess,” the other Leona begins, “this nice little place outside of Vernon.”
Andile pulls out her device, and checks her map. “Uh...yeah, that’s the closest town. You’ve been?”
“We’ve broken people out of there,” Mateo explains.
“Could you do it again?” Alt!Leona questions.
Leona shrugs. “Probably not. We had a certain time advantage back then, and access to detailed plans. I doubt we could get any of that here. Does the government know he’s in there?”
“No, he’s using a fake name,” Andile tells them. “The government knows one of his aliases, but not the one he was using when he was arrested.”
“What’s the alias that the government recognizes?” Leona asks her.
“Leon Delaney,” Andile replies.
They can’t help but laugh. This other version of Mateo knew the other version of Leona, of course but they weren’t together. She was with Horace. Perhaps this suggests that maybe he was in love with her even then, though?
“And the other one?” Mateo asks. “What’s the one that he’s using in jail?”
Andile smirks. “Andy Dufresne.”

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 20, 2398

Andile didn’t want to say much else after dropping that bomb on them about the alternate version of Leona. She said that it wasn’t her place to explain. The other Leona’s flight would come in the next day, and they could ask their questions then. So that’s what they did. They went back to the condo to fill in the rest of the team, and waited. The others wanted to come too, but the other Leona apparently didn’t know them at all, so it would probably just be overwhelming. The next morning Alt!Leona answered the door, not surprised, but yes, unnerved at the sight.
“Thank you for coming again,” Andile says once they’re seated.
“Thank you for having us,” Mateo says.
It becomes evident that Alt!Leona wants to talk first, but she needs them to be patient with her. Lips closed, almost pursed, she stares at the space between Mateo and her alternate. “I trust you’re doing well?” she asks Mateo.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Mateo answers.
“It’s nice to know there’s at least one Mateo out there who didn’t die.”
“Actually, he did die,” Mateo’s wife, Leona clarifies. “A few times.”
Now Alt!Leona purses her lips fully. “Well, at least he came back.”
“Leona, what happened?” Leona asks her self.
“I’m going to tell you my story,” Alt!Leona begins, assuming nothing about what you’ve been through. I may tell you things that you already know, and you’re just going to have to accept that, and be patient. I also don’t want any commentary about how things played out for you, or anything like that.”
“Understood,” Leona says.
Alt!Leona begins. “When I was nearing my sixteenth birthday, a friend of mine suggested I try alcohol, because drinking alcohol is the type of thing that normal teenagers do. So I did, and it went poorly. It made me sick—not enough to have to get my stomach pumped, but I had to go to urgent care just the same. I was sitting across from a man in the waiting area, trying to retch into a bag, when I ended up getting some on him. Long story short, I figured out who he was, and went to his house to apologize. That’s when everything changed. I learned that he was a time traveler, but not in control of his own life. I don’t know who was in control, if anyone, but I, admittedly, fell in love. He and his situation were fascinating, and I couldn’t just let that go.
“I probably would have become a film student in college if not for him. Instead, I pursued a physics degree. I wanted to understand what was going on with him. We met another; a teleporter, and she led us to believe that there were others. There was this one other guy too, but we weren’t really sure what his deal was. Anyway, I learned that an organ transplant might allow a normal person to take on the temporal characteristics of a traveler. Lucky for me, I was suffering from some kidney problems, which I might have been able to deal with, but I didn’t want to, so I started to not take very good care of myself. I needed a kidney transplant, and as luck would have it, Mateo was a match.
“Obviously, this process normally takes a long time, but we couldn’t wait for the bureaucracy. Mateo only existed one day out of the year. Through my connections, I was able to find a surgeon who was willing to perform the surgeries under unusual circumstances. Let’s just say that he had lost his license for a similar infraction years prior. This was the biggest mistake of my life, and seeing a version of Mateo sitting here hasn’t helped, like I hoped it would after Andile called to tell me that he was alive. The surgery went bad, and Mateo died. After a year of mourning, I discovered that his death didn’t prevent me from becoming like him. I guess it just delayed it. I only made one jump before I was approached by a stranger with an offer.
“She told me that it was her job to rescue people from the timeline. She said that I was in a different reality completely, and I could stay here, and not be on my pattern anymore. I only did it to be with Mateo, so that seemed like a good deal. Before she disappeared, she reintroduced me to Andile, and I never saw her again, so I never got the chance to ask her why it didn’t work. Instead of freeing me of my pattern, I just ended up taking Andile with me. I didn’t mean to. It’s not like I gave her my kidney too. At most, I touched her during a hug. Maybe you have an explanation for it.”
Leona and Mateo nod reverently, as they have been during the story.
“Do you?” Alt!Leona asks.
“Oh, sorry, we didn’t want to comment.”
“It was more about not being interrupted,” Alt!Leona straightens out.
It was hard for Leona to hear that story. She has met other versions of people before; even of herself, but this one is a lot different. This Leona didn’t spend hardly any time with Mateo, and never built a team. She and Andile have pretty much been alone this whole time. That changes a person. “Everything happened to me just as it did for you, until the surgery. A time traveling doctor did it for us, probably following what went wrong in your reality. Someone must have wanted things to play out differently, so they altered history. Normally, you would cease to exist as the result of that, but when you’re dealing with parallel realities, that all gets more complicated. Who was this stranger who told you this would free you of the pattern?”
“Her name was Olaya,” Alt!Leona answers. “I don’t know if it was a first or last name, but she didn’t give me any other.”
“Never heard of her,” Mateo says.
“Nerakali did say that there were other teams, but I don’t remember if Jupiter did. That was back during his era,” Leona says.
“So, do you know the answer?” Alt!Leona asks again.
Leona shakes her head. “Olaya should have been right. This place doesn’t have time travel, or at least not much of it. We don’t think it ever did. My theory is that that’s why it was created in the first place.”
“You did eventually lose it, though,” Mateo says. “When did that happen?”
“It was about three months ago,” Alt!Leona replies.
“Three months and twelve days.”
Mateo and Leona exchange a look. “That’s when we arrived. We did this to you.”
“You helped us,” Andile corrects. “We don’t want to time travel. We just want to stay put. I mean, we could do without the shady government people chasing us all over the country, but that could have happened either way. People crave power.”
“Do they know about you?” Leona asks. “If anyone would recognize you, then they probably know that there are two of us. And they know that there are two Angelas, so all in all, they know too much.”
“I don’t think they know about me,” Alt!Leona tells her.
“They only caught me,” Andile says apologetically.
“And you’re one of a kind.” Alt!Leona reaches over to take Andile by the hand.
“Look,” Leona begins, “I know you don’t want to have anything to do with this stuff, so we’re prepared to leave, and never mention you again, but I don’t feel like that’s enough. If you want to be somewhere safe, it’s not in this city. I don’t know where it is, though. I don’t know how to help you.”
“We don’t need your help,” Alt!Leona claims, “but we may be able to help you.”
“How might you do that?”
“I heard them talking while I was being transported to the fishbowl,” Andile says. “They’re looking for someone more valuable than any of us. And I know where he is.”